Counting and the Discipline of Moderation

Counting and the Discipline of Moderation

Addicts inherently struggle with moderation. You may try to convince yourself you’re only going to drink a single glass of wine or have a couple of beers, but keeping to this promise is challenging to the point of being seemingly impossible for many. This is why most addiction treatment focuses on abstinence — completely stopping the consumption of your substance of choice so you don’t lose control and go too far. Moderation Management (MM) is different, though, focusing on regaining control of alcoholism while still drinking on occasion. Writing in The Fix, André Wasp explains why the process is about more than just keeping count. 

Tackling Addiction: Abstinence or Moderation?

Although abstinence is the most common approach to tackling addiction, it isn’t the only one. For alcohol and other drugs, it goes without saying that abstinence is the preferable option in terms of your physical well-being; it’s better for you to drink nothing than to have a couple of beers. For many, it’s also easier to cope with complete abstinence psychologically, because once you start taking the substance, it can feel even harder to say “no more” before things go too far. However, with food addiction and sex addiction, moderation can be a suitable solution, and may be especially useful with alcohol, since it’s a widespread and socially accepted substance. It offers a middle ground for those who feel they’re unable to accomplish abstinence, or can even serve as a stepping stone to being completely substance free.

Moderation Management and Counting

Wasp points out how many newcomers to MM are surprised at the amount of counting they’re expected to do. It’s even recommended that attendees begin counting their drinks before they attempt to reduce their drinking. There are reasons for this — it helps you get into the habit of counting and can serve to alert you to how much you’re really drinking. Wasp calls this “the practical mindfulness of the count,” making it more difficult to remain in denial about how much you’re drinking when the numbers are staring you in the face.

There are set guidelines from MM for establishing low-risk consumption, but these are flexible, so they can be adapted to your own personal needs. Although he acknowledges that the process can seem too counting-dependent, he likens it to calorie-counting as a method for losing weight: it quickly becomes a natural part of your daily life, serving as a vital motivational tool to help you overcome your problem. The Holy Grail is still a day of total abstinence, but the real goal is to keep your score as low as possible.

Moderation Management as a Game of Golf

Wasp uses a golf metaphor to explain the process of keeping your score down week after week. At first, he argues, you may have trouble staying in control of the “ball,” falling into the same old bunkers and making the same mistakes over and over again. It might be through lack of preparation or poor self-discipline, but we often get high scores when it’s our first time on the links. But we keep going, working at our game until we notice an improvement. As we get accustomed to navigating the course, we start to successfully avoid those same bunkers and common mistakes, we correct little errors in our technique over time and develop a more confident, measured and reliable swing. Those courses on which we once consistently racked up high scores start coming in under par.

We surround ourselves with the skilled players, picking up handy tips along the way and reducing our scores week after week as a result. Then comes the day when a course we used to meet with trepidation and confusion can be tackled with composure, clarity, focus and control. We start to hit holes in one — getting where we want in one well-directed stroke.

Regaining Self-Control

The golf metaphor is an apt one, and the pleasure of keeping your score low in MM is much the same as in the sport. However, like the sport, it isn’t for everyone, and many will undoubtedly prefer the simplicity of abstinence. If moderation is more appealing to you, and you’re willing to put in the effort, keep your counts accurate and try to take control of your compulsions. Seeing your weekly counts come down becomes much more pleasurable than unrestrained drinking. By re-establishing your self control, Wasp argues that moderation “is an affirmation of our sovereignty over ourselves … marking the path away from the mechanical habits of the past and toward a mindful, responsible and healthier future.”

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